Nearly a half-century removed from the January 1961 assassination of Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba, Americans like to believe our country’s involvement in his brutal murder and the pilfering of Congo’s resources is a thing of the past. Instead, the Western ’conflict minerals’ approach is perpetuating these dynamics while prolonging the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II.
At first glance, the growing Western movement around conflict minerals –minerals obtained illicitly by way of conflict and by fueling conflict– appears as a helpful way of impacting the mass carnage and ongoing resource war in the Congo. Given the region’s unparalleled wealth of minerals –tungsten, tin, cassiterite and coltan are globally used in cell phones and laptops—current conflict minerals solutions focus heavily on disrupting the funding of armed groups in eastern Congo that commit atrocities against civilians and extract profits for foreign interests. These solutions are aligned with the recent introduction of the Conflict Minerals Trade Act of 2009 (HR 4128) which audits and identifies US imports containing conflict minerals and, in theory, helps break the links between the mineral trade and human rights violations in the Congo.
Sounds cogent… until you mine a little deeper.
Sadly, the Western conflict minerals approach is largely ineffective –even harmful—for two important reasons. First, the approach is heavily targeted at the armed rebel groups transporting minerals in eastern Congo while failing to sufficiently address the primary transit points for these illicit minerals through neighboring Rwanda and Uganda, countries whose pilfering of such resources have been well documented by the international community. It also fails to seriously hold the US and other western interests responsible for their backing of and ongoing profiting from strategic relationships with these neighbors. The US-supported Kagame regime in Rwanda receives and funnels hundreds of millions in profits by way of its illegal activities in the region.
Second, the question of resource sovereignty or of who should own and profit from these resources –the issue over which the nationalistic-minded Lumumba was assassinated—has not been clearly articulated by the conflict mineral approach. Instead, proponents have called for a militaristic option to allegedly “protect the people” and facilitate counterinsurgency, yet another thinly-veiled attempt at ensuring the flow of western profits from the region continues while further embedding the imperialistic and militaristic AFRICOM (United States Africa Command). Given US support for the invasions of Congo by Rwanda and Uganda in the mid-‘90s –and documented American involvement in the brutal murder of Lumumba– one doesn’t have to go back far to doubt the intentions of this latest western solution.
The Congolese people deserve to peacefully profit from mineral resources that come from their land and energize the globe. They deserve an engaged American community that pushes the Obama administration toward a diplomatic regional solution rather than its current backing of AFRICOM. They deserve an engaged global community that applies pressure to the governments of Rwanda and Uganda while holding companies and nations accountable for their direct or indirect roles in this brutal conflict.
The Congolese people deserve this now so that their lives –and the lives of independent-minded Africans like Lumumba– won’t continue to be lost among conflicting approaches.
Damien Amari Jackson is a freelance journalist who lives near Atlanta.